Concourse Theatre, Chatswood
Reviewed June 17
Butterfly is a new two-act ballet created for the students of the Australian Ballet School (ABS) by choreographer and ABS graduate Lucas Jervies. Although it is set to Jacques Offenbach’s musical score for the 19th century ballet – Le Papillon – this is not an attempted recreation of the original work. Rather, Jervies has created a new story which begins in a recognisably modern world, before taking a turn towards the fantastical.
The work begins with an unruly class of schoolkids acting up under the attempted tutelage of their matronly teacher Ms Puttyfoot (guest artist David McAllister). But make no mistake, these are not the well-behaved students you would expect to find at an elite institution like the Australian Ballet School. They tease and provoke each other, even getting into staged fights within the rough and tumble ambience of the group. With a choreographic language of grounded, angular movements punctuated by explosive jumps and individual outbursts, the unfortunate new girl, Sophie (sensitively portrayed by Sophie Burke), struggles to fit in. She unwittingly attracts the interest of classmate Jack and is simultaneously picked on and excluded by others.
Soon enough the students are off on an excursion to a butterly enclosure, and from the classic green and yellow tram to the "Butterfly House" sign that feature in the scenery and props it is clear that these students are visiting Melbourne Zoo’s iconic Butterfly House. Hugh Colman’s set and costume designs are whimsical and bright, reaching their apex when Sophie (presumably in some kind of daydream) is surrounded by scores of beautiful dancing butterflies. It is at this point that the choreography for the dancers is at its most classical, with the many butterflies ably led by Amy Ronnfeldt in the lead role of Monarch Butterfly. Like the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, the Monarch Butterfly is this work’s leading ballerina role and Amy danced with considerable aplomb, stamina and style. Having won a Prix de Lausanne scholarship earlier this year, she showed great potential for the future as did her cavalier, Jack Butterfly, danced by Charles Dashwood.
The 12 Butterfly Men showed off their grand allegro and turning shills in challenging combinations while Sophie Wormald, as the Queen Bee, danced a bright and entertaining solo that included choreographic references to the late Michael Jackson with her moonwalks en pointe. There was a comical interlude as competition between the petite Evangeline Beal-Attwood (Pink Butterfly) and the statuesque Indiana Scott (Blue Butterfly) ratcheted up, with both dancers hamming it up admirably. McAllister made a good fist of the harried Ms Puttyfoot, although the role did not give him the opportunity to flesh out the character in much detail, while Matthew Solovieff, as Jack, gave a dramatically coherent performance of this pivotal character right up until he was carefully wrapped in the long fabric folds of a cocoon … an emotionally powerful and visually striking moment.
Billed as a ballet for all ages, I think this Butterfly would have particular resonance for children, given the school setting and the themes of first love and transformation. A read of the digital program notes reveals the love and respect that the creatives behind this work have for the ABS, and it seems that the ballet's narrative itself has been lovingly designed to pay tribute to the school's role in nurturing young dancers. Butterfly seems intended to be something that celebrates the essence of who they are, and who they are striving to be, rather than requiring them to play grown up characters a world away from their own lived experiences.
Butterfly is a charming work that excites the imagination and would be an excellent introduction to ballet for young dancers. It runs for only one hour and 20 minutes (including a 20-minute interval) and the generous size of the cast (approximately 60 dancers) allows for plenty of colour and movement onstage. Young audiences will surely love the butterfly costumes (especially the tutus for the Butterfly ladies and attendants) that subtly incorporate decorative elements from a variety of real-life butterfly species.
- GERALDINE HIGGINSON